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Day of the Iguana

Iguana Photo: Pixabay

Story and photos by Eli Libenson

Puerto Vallarta is a resort city on the Pacific coast of Mexico some 850 miles south of the U.S. border. Until 1964 it was a sleepy fishing village but all that changed when director John Huston filmed Night of the Iguana there. The film, starring Richard Burton and Ava Gardner, attracted a lot of media attention, especially because Mr. Burton's soon to be wife, Elizabeth Taylor, was on set. Rumor had it that Miss Taylor was keeping a close eye on Miss Gardner who had a reputation for seduction. People may also recall that Puerto Vallarta was a favorite port of call for The Love Boat, a popular television show of the 1980s, starring Gavin MacLeod as the lovable Captain Merrill Stubing. It was in Puerto Vallarta that Judy and I spent a delightful nine days in February 2020.

A cruise ship docked in Puerto Vallarta

Our visit got off to a rousing start. As we disembarked from the plane a man came up to us asking if we were looking for a taxi. I told Judy that we should be careful but this man would not take no for an answer. He led us to a counter where his colleague offered us ice cold alcoholic drinks and then, when he saw how much we were enjoying them, called our "Hostess" and presented us with a whole bottle of Mexican liqueur. And that was just the beginning. Regaling us with how much there was to do in Puerto Vallarta he then offered us a free ride to our hotel, plus two free breakfasts the following morning and two free massages as well. All we had to do was attend a promotion for a time-share offering. He explained that he gets paid if the prospective customers just show up to the presentation, regardless of whether they buy or not. And so, we said yes, but then, after the presentation, we said no.

We would never have known about Puerto Vallarta, much less spend nine days there, had it not been for our dear friends Annabel and Rabbi Shlomo Levine, who actually do own a time share unit and have been spending winters there for the last thirty years. One of our delights was meeting their friends who also winter in Puerto Vallarta. There was a Jewish couple from South Africa now living in Toronto, a Mormon couple from Salt Lake City, Utah, and a Christian couple from Steubenville, Ohio - their friendship bridging different faiths.

Chabad came to Puerto Vallarta three years ago. Before that, there was no place for Jews to gather. Rabbi Shneur and his wife Mushkie have created such a place. Although I don't subscribe to Chabad's fundamentalist theology, I loved the warmth and hospitality we experienced on Friday night and Shabbat morning. On this particular Friday night a Sabbath meal was being served and more than 100 people came. The women lit candles and Mushkie, the rebbetzin, hugged each and every one. "That's what a rebbetzin should be", one woman commented.

The weather was absolutely perfect. Most days we sat around the hotel pool sunning ourselves, reading, and drinking Margaritas. We wondered about the signs cautioning us not to feed the animals as we had seen none until one morning right in front of Judy's chair, an iguana scuttled by.

Most memorable dish dining out ... tuna on hot rock
A sculpture on the Malecon, the boardwalk in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta has a boardwalk by the ocean called the Malecon. The city invests in art and there are sculptures the length of the boardwalk. One morning we went on a guided Sculpture Tour; another evening we went on an Art Walk visiting the city's many art galleries. Dining out is one of the city's real pleasures and it became the major social event of our day. The restaurants offer a rich selection of sea food - shrimp, crab, octopus - which we do not eat but there are plenty of other choices. My most memorable dish was tuna on hot rock. That's right - I was served a hot rock with a small jar of oil next to it. Pouring the oil on the hot rock made it sizzle and that's when I was supposed to sear the slices of tuna on it. It was delicious. I told Judy that we must serve this to our guests in Chicago. The only problem, she pointed out, was that we would need to buy special plates which the hot rocks would not crack. Leave it to a housewife to see the practical side of things.

One final word. Puerto Vallarta is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. The mountains loom over the city. Sixteen years before he made Night of the Iguana, John Huston directed the classic film The Treasure of the Sierrra Madre starring Humphrey Bogart. In that film adventurers head south to Mexico to find gold but all they find is trouble. We found just the opposite on our stay. 



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Friday, 19 July 2024

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